What is the fastest way to build muscle?

We explore the fastest way to build muscle to help you reach your goals

What is the fastest way to build muscle? Weight lifting
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're looking for the fastest way to build muscle, you’re in the right place. You might wonder whether this means lifting heavier weights or speeding through repetitions to fit more into your workout, but it's not as straightforward as that.

Instead, it helps to look at what happens to our muscles during exercise. When we do strength-training exercises, we use resistance to oppose our muscles, forcing them to work harder. You can do this with your bodyweight or equipment like the best adjustable dumbbells.

It's possible to get similar results with a set of the best resistance bands, which are typically more affordable and portable than a set of weights. As you work your muscles against this force, it causes tiny tears in your muscle fibers.

According to a paper published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, your body creates new fibers and extends existing ones as it repairs the damage, which improves your strength and increases muscle mass. 

What is the fastest way to build muscle? Women in the gym

(Image credit: Getty)

How long does it take to build muscle?

Effectively building muscle is a slow process, but when completing strength workouts consistently and correctly, you should begin to see results in three-four weeks, with larger changes to physique taking several months to be noticeable.

To achieve these results, research shows that you need to be working out each muscle group two-three times a week, carrying out four-eight sets of eight-twelve repetitions (reps) on each group depending on your level of experience with strength training.

If you are new to strength training, the number of sets required to build muscle will be lower than it is for an experienced weightlifter, and as your muscle mass increases, so too should the number of sets you complete.

We asked Luke Thompson, personal trainer, and bodybuilder, what the fastest way to build muscle is and he said: “Be consistent and disciplined with your efforts, and remember to be patient when it comes to results.”  

What is the fastest way to build muscle safely?

As your strength increases, you will need to increase the amount of resistance you use to get the most out of your workout; this is called progressive overload. The easiest way to do this is by gradually increasing the weight you are lifting, or if you’re not quite ready for a heavier weight, adding to the number of reps for each exercise.

You can also reduce rest time between sets and increase volume by training more often, but these methods of overloading are more about improving endurance than building muscle. Progressive overload is one of the fastest ways to build muscle because it ensures constant growth and development as you continue to challenge your body.

‘Lifting to failure’ is also a good way to know that you are getting the most out of your strength workout. This doesn’t mean lifting the heaviest you can, but choosing an appropriate weight for your ability and then completing your workout to the point where you should be failing your final set one-four reps before the end. 

Research shows you do not need to complete these last reps and if you are aware that you are approaching failure, stopping two - three reps before failure will actually have the same muscle-building results as lifting to complete failure. This ensures that the short-twitch muscle fibers are appropriately fatigued in order to trigger muscle growth.

If you are lifting to failure it is important that you have someone with you to ‘spot’ when you might need assistance to get out of an exercise, particularly when using barbells or squatting racks, as you can get trapped beneath the weight. 

What is the fastest way to build muscle? Weight lifting

(Image credit: Getty)

According to research, your diet is also incredibly important when trying to build muscle, as your body needs to repair the damage inflicted on the muscles with strength exercise. Protein is the primary macronutrient that your body uses for growth and repair, and is found in sources such as lean meat and fish, or nuts and legumes if you are on a plant-based diet.

In general, adults are recommended to consume 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, and this requirement increases in correlation with increased lean muscle mass, with athletes encouraged to eat 1.2g-2.0g of protein per kilogram of body weight. It is also important to eat protein throughout the day, as research indicates that protein turnover (the process your body goes through to build lean muscle mass) increases when you undertake regular strength training, so you need to be replenishing frequently.

Ensuring that you include a source of protein in every meal, and have protein-rich snacks throughout the day will help you stay on top of your body’s protein turnover and ensure that you are eating enough to support your body as you build muscle. Luke Thompson advised: “Consume protein from complete sources such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Complete proteins contain three branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine), which are essential in helping stimulate the growth of muscle.”

Thompson told Fit&Well: “Applying these principles to your exercise and diet regime will ensure you are covering all the basic fundamentals of bodybuilding to build muscle and strength.” 

What are common muscle-building misconceptions?

You may be tempted to lift the heaviest weight you can manage, because you believe that the fastest way to build muscle is to lift heavier, but this can be dangerous. When we lift at a weight beyond our capabilities it is often at the detriment of our lifting form, which can cause injuries. If you are relying on momentum to lift a weight, then you are unlikely to be correctly working the muscle group that you are trying to target, and will be compensating with other muscles to complete the exercise. It is important not to ‘ego-lift’ and to properly assess your abilities, choose the appropriate weight, and complete the exercise in a slow and controlled manner. 

If you’re thinking about investing in your own weights, don’t miss our round up of dumbbells on sale.

Lou Mudge
Lou Mudge

Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well, Coach, LiveScience, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.

Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health. You can find her on Instagram at @loulouapril